HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe has all but let Cecil’s killers off the hook as Mugabe’s wife says hunter did nothing wrong.
“I say the dentist who killed the lion must be left alone,” said Mrs Mugabe, adding that the dentist “was not aware of the importance of Cecil”. Mrs Mugabe’s comments contradict a previous statement by environment minister Oppah Muchinguri, who first announced that Dr Palmer should be extradited to stand trial in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean prosecutors have charged both the professional hunter and the owner of the farm where Cecil the lion was shot by Palmer in July.
Both men have pleaded not guilty but it has already been found that Honest Ndlovu, the owner of the farm, did not have a hunting quota for lions.
“Only animals on quota are to be hunted,” the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in a statement. “In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt,” they said.
The parks authority have stated that the professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst “illegally connived with Ndlovu to kill the lion”, which is in direct violation of Section 59 of the Parks and Wildlife Act.
Parks Authority believes that the use of a bow and an arrow “was meant to conceal the illegal hunt by using a means that would not alert the rangers on patrol.”
But Ndlovu was freed a couple of weeks ago on a US$200 bail and the case has been postponed to 18 September. Bronkhorst was charged in August with “failure to prevent an illegal hunt” but also allowed to walk with an insignificant bail set.
The lawyer acting on behalf of Bronkhorst, Givemore Mvhiringi, stated that his client will only face a maximum fine of US$450 if convicted of an illegal killing.
No charges have been filed against the man who shot Cecil, Walter Palmer who returned to work at his dental practice last week.
Zimbabwe’s National Prosecuting Authority, which handles extradition requests, said last Tuesday that the Zimbabwean police have not supplied the required documentation for Palmer’s extradition. Police have so far declined to comment on possible charges against Palmer.
In the United States, officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) stated in July that they would investigate Palmer over Cecil’s killing, but so far nothing has been announced.
Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation states that the sentences “will indicate that even if you are found guilty you can break the wildlife laws in Zimbabwe with virtually no impunity.”
Travers says that “millions of people will be deeply disappointed if these lenient fines prove to be the case especially at a time when illegal wildlife crime has been designated a ‘serious crime’ by the United Nations, which carries a four-year custodial tariff.”
“It makes a mockery of the Zimbabwean justice system,” says Travers.